By Wendy E. Shepard
The Library community room was packed and quiet. The local League of Women Voters was showing “The Health Care Movie,” covering the history of U.S. and Canadian health care.
Originally, the two systems were similar, but Canada took a different turn. The vision of Tommy Douglas, the first leader of the New Democratic Party, led to the creation of Canada’s single payer universal health care system, known as Medicare.
One word in the film captured my drifting mind and stared me down: MORAL. It was the moral thing to do, Canadians said, to make sure that every human being in Canada had access to good health care. It was that simple.
Moral. I had heard that word so seldom in this age of corruption in business and politics that I had to look it up in the dictionary to make sure I still knew what it meant. My old 1965 Webster’s Dictionary was clear. Moral: “sanctioned by one’s conscience or ethical judgment.”
Each of us, somewhere inside, has a conscience and a code of ethics by which we try to lead our lives. They are all slightly different, because we are all slightly different. The fact that you and I are unique in all of space and time, having our own special purpose for being alive, is the foundation for equal worth and the foundation of our common humanity.
Equal worth transcends labels like Independent, Democrat, Republican, left, right, poor, rich, striped, polka-dotted. Some things, like our democracy, are defined only by our humanity, our moral core that knows what is right. According to my dictionary, democracy is “the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.”
Taking care of each other, the Canadians said, is the essence of democracy. The Canadians in the film did not understand the fear of U.S. citizens regarding universal health care. We are not socialist, said one woman, or communist; we are a democracy. We only want to be sure that every child and every adult has access to necessary health care if they are sick.
In the U.S., we have made a start with Obamacare, and many states are exploring full single-payer universal health care. So-called powerful lobbies representing insurance and pharmaceutical interests are doing their best to squash this movement, but the real power lies with us – U.S. spells us – and the moral code that honors the right of health care for all.
While the Canadian system is not perfect, no one in Canada goes bankrupt from health care costs (which, in the U.S., are the greatest cause of personal bankruptcy). No one in Canada is denied access. In 2004, a CBC viewer survey named Tommy Douglas, the father of Canada’s Medicare, “The Greatest Canadian.”
Who will design a healthcare system that honors our equal worth and become our greatest American?
— Editor’s note: Wendy E. Shepard, author of “Lucky to be Alive: A Love Story,” is a playwright, poet, and journalist. She has lived on San Juan Island for 20 years.